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Katie’s Webscience Update for Friday, September 2nd

Afternoon! It’s September, and Providence, like other college towns the world over, is experiencing an influx of lost-looking freshmen and their parents. Ah, those were the days…

Smartphones learn a new trick

Not feeling so hot? Soon you may be able to diagnose yourself by peeing on your smartphone. Scientists at Harvard Medical School have developed a microchip that can identify the presence of an ovarian cancer antigen in a urine sample. In an antibody based chemical reaction the chip turns blue when the disease is detected. The chip can then be read by your smartphone which will let you know if you need to get a second opinion from a human being. Similar technologies are being developed to test white blood cell levels and drinking water contamination with the ultimate goal of distributing cheap and straightforward diagnostic tools in third world countries.

A schematic of the pee-on microchip test for ovarian cancer.
A schematic of the pee-on microchip test for ovarian cancer.

This is not an oyster

But the student looking over my shoulder thought it was! Nasty. Anyway, a paper this week in Nature Neuroscience detailed a method for rendering mouse embryos transparent. Using a mixture of glycerol, soap, and urea, the researchers based at RIKEN in Tokyo were able to image fluorescent neurons buried millimeters inside the brain. Although the clearing treatment is lethal, the authors were able to generate beautiful images in three dimensions from these embryos.

A mouse embryo (left), cleared (right), and the neurons that can now be seen (inset)
A mouse embryo (left), cleared (right), and the neurons that can now be seen (inset)

Here, kitty kitty!

One of the rarest cats in the world, the African golden cat (Caracal aurata), has been caught on camera for the first time. These elusive animals are native to central and western Africa, and have become the focus of University of Kwazulu Natal graduate student Laila Bahaa-el-din. She set up the camera in a forest clearing. In the nighttime video the bobcat-sized feline is attempting to capture a bat! (Unfortunately I cannot embed the videos here, but clicking the above link will take you to them!).

Photo by: Laila Bahaa-el-din
Photo by: Laila Bahaa-el-din

Dance your Ph.D

Challenge accepted. I am currently trying to dream up an entry that doesn’t require too much rhythm or papier-mache, but my imagination is like a runaway train and sadly I don’t have the budget of Lady Gaga, so it’s not going very well. I’ll get there in the end, have no fear! In the mean time, here’s an entry from last year that was the finalist in the Chemistry section:

Selection of a DNA aptamer for homocysteine using SELEX from Maureen McKeague on Vimeo.

Do you think you can top that? Then you should probably enter too!! See you at the TEDx conference in Brussels 😉

That’s all for this week, and if you’re in the U.S. enjoy the long weekend!



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